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Seeking nightshades in South America

63 Posts tagged with the collecting tag
2

So – after having to buy a new tyre in Bahia Blanca, another day of driving to the south…  Patagonia is a long way from central Argentina! Although we were in Patagonia strictly speaking in Bahia Blanca, we still had a long way to go before our plants appear. After an early start we hurtled along the excellent roads – along the sides were harvested fields, all pretty normal looking until you looked closer to see flocks of rheas (South American ostriches) grazing the stubble!

 

Passing into Patagonia proper there are strict controls on the transport of fruits and food products – this is a big agricultural region and many diseases are absent (like brucellosis for example) – so all vehicles are carefully inspected at the border of the province of Rio Negro…  so we had to eat out fruit before crossing over! The lovely salami from Cordoba didn’t pass muster, so had to be thrown away...  a tragedy.

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We headed for a beach resort right at the mouth of the Rio Negro, not for the usual, but again in search of Jaborosa bergii. This plant is proving totally elusive – we failed again! We did collect a beautiful composite – Grindelia – whose chromosome Franco is studying, and a couple of other things.

 

We also failed to see whales or dolphins, but then again that requires going out on a boat and that is not really what we are here for! We did, however, take a tiny detour to see the largest parrot nesting site in the world – 12 kilometres of coast line is occupied by thousands of burrowing parrots who nest in holes in the soft cliffs. The fledglings were leaving and the hawks circling – an amazing sight.

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The Atlantic in the distance, mouth of the Rio Negro

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Burrowing parrots near the nest - slightly out of focus - I do plants not birds!!

 

We headed for the tourist town of Puerto Madryn for the night, a mistake as it turned out. Gloria and Franco had had trouble there before finding a hotel, and we ought to have learned from that experience! No rooms were to be had anywhere. It was Franco’s birthday – so we had a nice meal with a birthday ice cream cake and singing in a restaurant on the sea front (by this time it was almost midnight – the sun doesn’t set until 9pm this far south in the austral summer!), and drove on to the next town – Trelew. We finally reached a hotel at 2 am….  a very, very long day!

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On the road again!!

Posted by Sandy Knapp Jan 12, 2013

After almost a year in the herbarium and lab, I am ready for the wide-open spaces of field work again! This year I go (without Tiina, who is getting organised for another Peruvian adventure and for her new job in Edinburgh) to Argentina again to collect nightshades with my colleagues from Cordoba - Gloria Barboza and Franco Chiarini. This year we go south to Argentine Patagonia - in search of the rare and endemic nightshade genera Combera and Pantacantha, both of which only occur in the region. We have received funding both from the Museum and from the Argentine National Science Foundation's Pedersen Fund for collecting, so its a real joint effort.  I'll also visit another colleague in Mendoza - Iris Peralta, who worked at the Museum in 2001 on the tomato monograph with me. It will be great to see everyone again, and to find some new and exciting plants!

 

Franco has mapped out some collecting localities - and sent me the route all mapped out in Google Earth - its an epic journey - each day is ina different colour - a real road trip in the making! We will go down the coast and back to Cordoba through the Andes.......

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The tiny white typing is the localities for collecting particular plants - I have never seem many of these Patagonian endemics in the flesh before, so going to places where others have seen them is a good start. I'm sure we will find new populations and see new things though - we always do. I am in the Museum this weekend getting all the bags and envelopes together for collecting - Patagonia is a long way from anywhere and we don't want to run out of supplies for sampling.

 

When I looked at the distribution of Solanum collections in the Solanaceae Source database we have been building up over the last few years Patagonia is a real hole - so any Solanum we collect will be a great addition; they are not as common in southern Argentina as in Peru or northern Argentina, but they must be there....  I am sure of it!!

 

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See the hole just above this place? All that database entry is really starting to pay off now - we can see where we need to either collect more, or add georeference points to our database......

 

The Patagonian endemics are small scrubby plants - I am especially looking forward to seeing the bizarre Petunia patagonica in the wild - I am sure it is not a Petunia, but am not quite sure what genus it belongs to really - seeing it in the wild and collecting some leaves for molecular analysis will help us to place it in the nightshade family tree, so watch this space!

 

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Here is Petunia patagonica growing in the Apline House at Kew - its a sticky little shrublet about the size of a basketball - the flowers are about 1 cm long and very oddly patterned - can't wait to see it in its native habitat!!

 

I leave for Cordoba on Wednesday - so its all a bit of a rush to get ready to go, but the permits to collect are all sorted, even for the national parks. This is the most important aspect of getting ready for a field trip - and sometimes the most difficult. I'm lucky to have such great colleagues in Argentina who help with all the necessities of this part of the work.

 

Next post - from Argentina!!

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21st March – Neotypifying, and yet again, neotypifying

 

Panic over! We found cash and didn't have to wash any dishes. It was the well known classic "going to the bank" method that saved us . Lucky we had some US dollars to change into Peruvian nuevo soles. Still running strong, fuel in the car, food in the stomachs, and money burning in the pockets .

 

Yesterday we drove all day for nearly 300 km on small mountain roads just to get to Sandia. The reason we so desperately want to collect around here is that there are two species described from around Sandia that need re-typification. This is because the material that was used to describe these species, i.e. their type collections, were destroyed during the Second World War in the Berlin herbarium. To replace the lost types, new types need to be made, and this process is called neotypification.

 

The two types we wanted to recollect were for Solanum planifurcum and Solanum sandianum. Both species were described by Bitter, S. planifurcum from the outskits of Sandia from 2100 – 2500m elevation, and confusingly, S. sandianum from higher up above Cuyocuyo, a town c. 20 km from Sandia, at 3800 m elevation. Some claim these species are synonyms, and represent just extreme variation of a single species. Today we shall see!

 

We started our morning from Sandia near S. planifurcum type locality, and luckily found a population just outside Sandia in 2100 m elevation.

 

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We kept collecting populations until 2500 m, and observed variation along the elevational gradient. Further up, all the way to 3200 m we could observe populations of S. planifurcum. Then gradually, things started to change. At 3400 we found what Bitter would have called S. sandianum, just outside Cuyocuyo, in the local rubbish dump. Not a pretty collection locality, I admit, but there is was.

 

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Solanum sandianum seems to have narrower leaves, which are less hairy and shiny above. Flowers vary in colour, but in general they are dark purple rather than pale lilac as Solanum planifurcum. Calyx shape and size, corolla, stamens and style characters seem to vary less. But are the differences in leaf shape, size and indumentum enough to justify recognising two species? We discussed this with Paul and decided that this is a perfect case where molecular sequence data can help us to decide. If molecular data gives evidence that these taxa are not sister to each other, then we will look for morphological differences that could be used to distinguish them. If, on the other hand, molecular data shows these individuals from different elevations along the road from Sandia to Cuyocuyo to be all mixed within a single clade, I think the case is clear for sunking these names for synonomy!

 

Having done a good days work in collecting along the gradient from Sandia to Cuyocuyo, we were heading back towards Juliaca. As we got closer to the city, we opted to drive all the way to Puno for the night as the city is famous for its beautiful location on the shore of Lake Titicaca.

 

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The roads weren’t great, and again, we arrived to Puno very late at night. We managed to find a hostel without trouble this time. It was time for some relaxation, and winding down after a long drive. Lucky for the boys, there was a footfall game on in the evening, Peru was playing against Chile! Tensions were high, it was 0-1 for Chile for long time, and although Peru managed to score before too long, Chile eventually won. The boys were sad, some tears were shed, but I consoled them by reminding them that there was the beautiful view of Lake Titicaca to see in the morning.

 

 

22nd March – Views over Lake Titicaca

 

I always thought as a child that Lake Titicaca was a hot place with sandy beaches and tropical fruits all over. Just to clarify, this was not the fault of the Finnish education system at all. I just had manage to form this image in my head that Lake Titicaca was a place for sunbathing.

 

The truth is very different. Lake Titicaca is the highest elevation lake in the world, and it is not that warm.

 

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Again we had a long drive ahead of us, we had to make some miles to make it across the Andes for the final time. This time we were crossing the Cordillera Occidental to the coastal deserts near Moquegua. It’s a long 7 hour drive from Puno to Moquegua, and this is without any collecting or taking side roads. Of course we couldn’t avoid the temptation to take few sideroads, but just enough to collect few Solanum fragile specimens near Puno.

 

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Solanum fragile is the panda of the Solanum world – it’s flowers are cute as buttons! The calyx lobes are shy but showy, just a little bit recurved as you can see in the picture, and then the stigma! See how long it is, it’s excerted more than the length of the stamens! The species grows high up around 4000 m elevation, in rock crevases – despite this it has all the elegance of a high society lady with light blue petals, large corollas, and the showy appearance!

 

And of course there was Salpichroa hiding amongst the rocks as well! Salpichroa glandulosa is distinct amongst the genus having very densely hairy leaves.

 

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We dissected a flower in the field, and discovered that the nectary disk at the base of the corolla tube is orange!

 

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The slopes on the western side of the Andes near Moquegua are extremely dry and sandy. At 4400 m elevation there was sand everywhere. We kept looking for our sand loving friend Solanum chamaesarachidium, but couldn’t find it. I doubt it occurs this far west, the only populations known from Peru are in Puno.

 

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The western slopes lower down are home for the Regmandra and the tomato clade of Solanum. We collected Solanum peruvianum along the road at around 2500 m elevation, a wild species related to tomato.

 

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Today finding a hotel was easy – we hailed one from the car!!!! We got to Moquegua late, and we were tired. On a tight street just near the main Plaza of the city, whilst waiting for a traffic jam to clear, we manage to find a hotel on our left with their carrage door just a meter from our car, and that was it! We hailed the owner to open the doors before causing too much of a chaos on the street, and checked ourselves in. Sometimes it is easy, sometimes not…

 

 

23rd March – Flowers of the dry hills

 

Having slept peacefully, we headed out early to hunt for a collection I had seen in the herbarium in Lima. It was a specimen near Torata near Moquegua, that resembled Solanum arequipense, a species that has remained mysterious since its original description by Bitter. As for some other species of Bitter, the type of Solanum arequipense was destroyed in the Berlin fire during the Second World War. Without the type, the species has remained elusive and despite the name having been used in various floristic accounts, nobody really knows what the species is really like and what entity the name really refers to.

 

But there it was, just next to Quebrada Torata. This taxon is very similar to Solanum aloysiifolium, species that is found in northern Argentina and Bolivia. My colleague Gloria (see Argentina blog) will find these photos very exciting! Despite the similarity, this species is definetely something different. The leaves vary from entire to serrate, stamens are c. 3 m long, style clearly excerted, with a very capitate stigma.

 

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The calyx lobes are larger than in Solanum aloysiifolium, and most importantly, the fruits remain green when mature. The fruits are speckled with these white small dots, which I first thought to be nothing special. But every fruit, in every individual we have seen, seems to have them.


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We also collected another wild tomato species, Solanum chilense. It grows lower down in elevation.

 

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Another new species for the day was Solanum corymbosum, a member of the Solanum section Parasolanum group. These species are related to Solanum section Solanum. They all have small flowers with tiny anthers, but with large stigmas. Solanum corymbosum occurs in low elevation dry habitats, whilst the others occur at slightly higher elevation. Solanum corymbosum has cute red fruits that resemble mini-tomatoes.

 

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In the extremely dry habitats we passed near Omate we collected Exodeconus

 

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and Nolana, both genera of Solanaceae specialised in desert habitats.

 

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The day was getting late, and we were still in the middle of the desert, slowly ascending to the mountains on our way to Arequipa. It was getting dark, and we were aware that we would be arriving late to Arequipa that night. Except that suddenly we realised we were not going to arrive to Arequipa at all: we had a punctured front left tire! We also had a slow puncture in our back left tyre, and although this tyre looked still OK, air was coming out more and more rapidly.

 

So punctures in both of our left hand side tyres, what could we do? We took our spare out, thinking that changing the flat tyre from the front could get us as far as Arequipa, three hours away. Andrew and Paul took the spare down from its hiding place, and started changing the tyre. In less than 30 minutes, they were putting bolts on and tightening the spare – we were nearly ready to go again! Except that the spare turned out to be flat as well…

 

There was nothing else left to do except to take the spare and walk to the next village to get pumping. I stayed in the car, guarding our poor Freddy as we call our handsome 4by4. The spot were we had had to stop was a dangerous one – there was not adequate space to easily get pass our Freddy if busses or trucks would turn up. I was equiped with a powerful head torch, and hazards triangle which I put on the road.

 

By the time boys headed to the village with the spare tyre, it was pitch black. There I was, finally having an opportunity to breath, enjoy an evening by myself and watch the starts on the clear Andean sky. Beautiful! This is how it looked before going totally dark. I stopped taking photos in the dark as star skies never turn up nice but trust me it was beautiful.

 

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Temperatures rocket down during nights in the Andes, so I stayed inside the car, keeping myself warm, waiting for any passersby. Nothing came for nearly an hour, but then I finally saw lights in the night sky, coming from behind the nearby curve. It was a truck!!! I took my headtorch, shone to indicate our poor positioning in the middle of two curves on narrow part of the road, and hoped that they would slow down before passing Freddy which was missing its both left handside tyres.

 

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The truck barely slowed down. It took a milly second to observe the situation and the narrow space before taking its decision to go for it. The truck passed well, which was good news. This meant buses might be able to pass as well, and we knew to expect a bus soon.

 

Boys returned with bad news: the spare tyre was not only flat but with a massive hole in it.

 

So with three flat tyres and two OK ones, we had no option than to split our team. Paul with his peruvian fluency offered to head to Arequipa with two tires, so that he could return by next morning with repairs. Luckily a car passed by to give Paul a lift. Andrew and I stayed with the car. How would our night in Freddy go – and would the busses get through? We were nervous, but the stars were giving us comfort.

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18th March – Amazonia here we come!

 

We are just recovering from yesterday night – we were driving along the Carretera Interoceanica thinking there will be plenty of places to stay. Darkness here comes at six, and by the time it was 7 pm we were desperate to find a nice place for the night. Unfortunately the route we are taking is not touristy at all. So there we were, without a place to stay and all options we could find looked dim. So dim it seemed the hostals we saw had front wall and an open back to them. Andrew came up with a new saying – always check your hostel has walls…

 

The local police in Ocongate told us that the best place in town was 5 km away along the main road. We took his advice, and found the amazing “Parador del Ausangate”. They had everything! The place is most immaculate, the owners most welcoming, and we really enjoyed our night.

 

The views in the morning were breath taking. Parador del Ausangate is next to Cordillera del Ausangate, a popular destination for hicking and mountain climbing. The highest peak is Nevado Ausangate at 6384 m. All peaks are covered in snow, making the scenery fantastic.

 

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Once on the road again, we were heading to Amazonia. First we had to drive through the pass at 4780 m. As usual, puna vegetation means finding Salpichroas. A few kilometers after the pass we found a beautiful specimen of Salpichroa glandulosa. Paul had to get his boots wet to collect it along the stream. I kept dry and took pictures

 

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The road descended to Amazonian lowlands quickly. Before we knew it we were at 500 m elevation. The houses changed shape: now everything was build from wood, whilst in the puna houses are made of clay and straw. We took some side roads in order to explore the forest, and bumbed into a small hydroelectric dam and its keeper señor Juan Cruz. Juan is a keen entymologist, and new everything about the local insect fauna. He had recently found something he had never seen in his 55 years he has lived in the area. It was big, with a large horne with stiff hairs all along it. If any insect experts can identify this, names are welcome, we are fascinated!

 

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Juan told us that these insects, and particular rare butterflies sell for up to 400 soles. That is a large sum of money here. Some collectors even come to him regularly to see what he has got, and offer to buy anything of their interest. On his small farm around the dam Juan had some interesting plants too. Solanum sessiliflorum, locally known as cocona, was growing next to his fire hut, a species native to Peru and much cultivated for its delicious fruits that can be used for jams, juice and preserves. It’s related to the other cultivated species, Solanum quitoense, known as naranjilla, commonly eaten in Ecuador.

 

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We enjoyed some juicy sugar cane stem with Juan and offered bisquits in return which we had bought earlier. We made some nice collections around the dam, but as time was ticking we had to return to the main road. Two of the most interesting collections of the day were things we didn’t quite know. Before Sandy left we promised to her to post any pictures of things we can’t name, so here they are, hopefully something exciting! First, Solanum tree with unusually large calyx:

 

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And another one, this time a tree species of Solanum from the Geminata clade:

 

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Where did we stay the night this time? Well that is another story in itself, read on tomorrow to find out!

 

 

19th March – Rare finds

 

The night brought us trouble again. There was nowhere to stay in most towns we passed, or at least there were no hostels with both front AND back walls . So we kept driving until 8 pm. It was dark and we were desperate. Originally we had planned to stay in Puerto Inambari, a city where the Carretera Interoceanica meets another large road connecting the Amazonian lowlands to Puno and Juliaca near the Bolivian border. We assumed Puerto Inambari would be a bustling town ready to receive passing by passengers. We blinked and Puerto Inambari was gone… Another 17 km further down the road was another town, same case, there was nothing. We decided to continue on the road until the provincial capital San Gapán. Provincial capitals often have more accommodation available, and our hopes were high. Another 64 km later we arrived to San Gapán and stopped at first hotel we saw!

 

We woke up slightly later to recover from last nights errors. The lesson we are quickly learning is that never assume there are places to stay, unless you are heading to tourist areas like the Sacred valley in Cusco.

 

Today’s route included an exciting climb. The road from San Gapán to Juliaca and Puno crosses the eastern cordillera. Once you are up in 3500 m elevation, the uplands begin and seem never to stop until you get to the coast another 1000 km away. These uplands are not homogeneous though: the best ever microhabitat in the high elevation are the sand dune habitats near 4000 m.


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We passed one of these dunes, just like beach sand, and stopped to see if Solanum chamaesarachidium would be there – and it was!!! This species is a minute Solanum species, the whole plant is barely the size of a thumb. What a specialised niche it has as well: sand dunes at 4000 m elevation are not common!

 

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Today’s unidentified Solanum was one that Sandy knows like the back of her hands – species from the Geminata clade. We didn’t know what it was, but will use Sandy’s key to identify it once back in Lima.

 

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Other species we found included the weedy but wonderful Solanum chenopodioides.

 

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Many people confuse it with Solanum americanum, but Solanum chenopodioides has larger calyx lobes, corolla with black eye, larger anthers, generally fewer flowers per inflorescence, pedicels that become strongly reflexed in fruit, and dull black coloured fruits. Here is Solanum americanum for comparison – it takes careful looking but the differences are there!

 

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Last but not least comes the most challenging collection of the day. Andrew and Paul had to use some robe, seceteurs, and clever thinking to get this one! Solanum grandiflorum grows up to 6 m high, but what makes it tricky is that it lacks low lying branches – flowering shoots especially are all in the crown of the tree. Collecting big trees is defenetely much more time consuming…

 

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We are only a few days into our latest tour, but have made it already to Macusani. Macusani is a big provincial capital, and we had no trouble finding a nice place to stay. But internet is still difficult to come across. There are places but full of youngsters playing video games online!

 

 

20th March – Through the highlands

 

Today was all about making the miles, and getting to Sandia. We are heading to the southeast corner of the department of Puno to visit some type localities of names for which types got destroyed in Berlin during the Second World War. It was a long day, with highland scenery.

 

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We were driving on top of the mountains all day – this was my clever plan to avoid dangerous mountains roads, ascending and descending all the time with plenty of curves that turn your belly around. The strategy worked, and we made the distance. Sleeping well tonight in Sandia. Hoping tomorrow to find a cash machine as we are running out of cash. Or will we have to succumb to washing dishes after dinner???!!

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Back to the "real" world?

Posted by Sandy Knapp Mar 23, 2012

I left Tiina, Andy and Paul in Cusco and began my slow re-entry into the world outside plant collecting – culture shock for sure! Flying into Lima the world looked very different – big cargo ships, anchovy fishing fleets, dry desert – something I hadn’t seen for what seemed like years, but really was only a couple of weeks.

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I tried really hard not to be envious of their journey on the Interoceanica – failed of course, but I will hear about it eventually! They are sure to find great things, can’t wait to see them.

I spent a day and a half in Lima, working in the herbarium again trying to sort out a few mysteries, catching up with friends and generally getting things set up for when the others return. Some of the great old friends from previous times in Peru were in Lima (Blanca Leon and Ken Young from the University of Texas) – we all had a great Sunday walking along the seafront near their apartment in Miraflores.

Although I have now come back to the Museum and am getting to grips with the “real” world, the field trip work does not end yet. All those lovely solanums we collected need to have their data typed up into the database so the labels can be printed out. In order to export our part of the specimens from Peru we must provide complete data labels, too often people come and collect, leave the plants but never send the labels, making the collections a burden for the staff of our sister institution in Lima. Field work needs to be collaborative from start to finish, and the finish is long after one leaves what is considered the “field”!

The Museum hasn’t changed utterly since I left, so picking up the threads of what I was doing before is pretty straightforward. The best bit is that I feel a new excitement for what I am doing in Solanum taxonomy, a new appreciation for the collections we have and the ones we have just made, and have come back altogether rejuvenated – full of new ideas and plans. Seeing plants in their native habitat, doing what they just do, is without doubt once of the most important ways to increase understanding of the diversity and scope of nature. The collections we hold at the Museum are important, of course, but it is the combination of knowledge from the collections and field that really makes for good science - an integrative whole that is more than the sum of its parts.

This is definitely the best job in the world!! Keep tuned in for Tiina's posts from Peru, and once she is back here in London, we will keep you up to date with what we do with the wonderful nightshades we have collected in South America.

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Goodbye western side!

Posted by Sandy Knapp Mar 18, 2012

from Tiina:

Today was a day of goodbyes. First we had to say goodbye to Sandy who is flew to Lima to catch her flight back to London. She has to teach in Spain in a week’s time, so it’s time to get things ready for the next trip. We have had great weeks together collecting Solanum and talking Solanaceae research with our colleagues in Peru and Argentina. Now the challenge is to continue our field work successfully with just three of us left!

 

We drove to Cusco to drop Sandy off at the airport. Cusco is a large city in a small valley, and by now the city has spread to the surrounding hills. As we navigated through the old and curvy streets of Cusco to get to the airport, I took a photo of the beautiful scenery over Cusco taken from the northern hills.

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We continued our day after sad goodbyes to collect in the surrounding hills of Cusco. It was wonderful collecting in such a historic place – we were basically collecting around old ruins! The whole area of Cusco surroundings is full of ruins, where ever you look. Each stone seems to have a carving or human made shape to it. One large rock that I went around turned out to have stairs carved into it! Here is a great sight of the caves in the ruins of Qenqo with Andrew and Paul.

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Amongst these wonderful areas we found a new Salpichroa species we haven’t seen on this trip yet, Salpichroa gayi. Unlike other species of Salpichroa, it has very unusual yellow-purple flowers. The corolla lobes curve very unusually at their tips, which we only spotted once we looked at our close-up photos in the evening!

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Another species we collected near Cusco was Solanum probolospermum, the usual suspect. This species is very common all through the department of Cusco west of the Eastern Cordillera. It’s a climbing species that scrambles on top of shrubs and roadside vegetation. It has attractive large purple flowers, and usually softly pubescent leaves. During our collections we have observed that the species varies enormously in habit and leaf shape, as well as corolla colour, shape and size. You might ask if there is nothing it doesn’t vary in… We are asking the same question by now. Despite all this trouble the species is giving us, here is a nice shot of the individuals we found growing in sunny hillside in Cusco. Sandy will be happy to see Paul is learning how to use our wonderful camera increasingly well!

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After a nice stroll around Cusco, it was time for second goodbyes. This time we are saying goodbye to the western side of the Andes. We are moving on to our next grand tour – a triangle route to the city of Puno through Puerto Inambari. This trip will take us through the Eastern Cordillera via the highway Interoceanica that goes through Peru all the way to Brazil. The road crosses the Andes at a pass at 4750 m elevation – can’t wait to see the views! After the high pass the road descents to the Amazon basin to 500 m elevation or so. This route will allow us to collect in the humid eastern slopes of the Andes where many interesting species of solanums live. We will take the Interoceanica highway all the way to Puerto Inambari which is way into the Amazon. You can see the pencil pointing to the city on the map above. Here we will turn south-east, where we turn south east towards Puno. The road from Puerto Inambari to Puno will take us over the Andes once again back to the western side.

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So goodbyes it was to the western side! We started off on the Interoceanica at four in the afternoon, with km0 saying 4700 km to São Paulo. It’s very tempting to think we could drive to São   Paulo for a lovely dinner, sushi perhaps as they have famously good sushi bars there, but perhaps we have to leave that for another day L. No need to be sad for too long though, there will be great plants to see J!

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We were aiming to stay the first night of our tour in a city called Ocongate, which is roughly three hours into the highway. The area we passed is full of small Andean villages, where most people speak Quechua, language very different from Spanish or English. Some of the local villages we passed had wonderful names – but we just didn’t know how to pronounce them! To give an example, here is a picture of a road sign to one of the villages:

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In case you are still trying to cough the name out, here is how it goes: cc is pronounced with a dry throat sound of “kha”. As there happen to be two double cc in the village name, it becomes a little problematic. Definitely not a word to pronounce whilst eating your dinner! So once you know how to pronounce double c, then it all goes smoothly, or does it?! We are still awake and trying!

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from Sandy:

For my last day of collecting with Team Solanum we decided to go down another of the roads out of the Sacred Valley up over the mountains and to the Amazon slope. This one made a loop, so we thought it would be a good idea! Well, it was, but it made for a VERY long day. First we ascended up a shale scree slope on a road (yes a road) to 4578m elevation over the Abra de Amparaes….

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We then descended through a wonderful glacial valley, classically shaped as a U – it was full of tiny communities with herds of llamas and alpacas. These iconic Andean animals are related to camels and are hardy enough to withstand the altitude and temperatures – although they are set out to graze every day and brought back to stone corrals every night by the local people. You can see the camel-like faces….

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Our first exciting solanum of the day was the enigmatic Solanum “Cusco-branched” – a plant sort of like Solanum probolospermum of the Abra de Malaga, but with dense branched hairs all over its stems and leaves. Is it the same, is it different? We needed to really collect it intensely over the range of elevations to be sure… it seems that this branched hair thing is on the Amazon side (E slopes), with Solanum probolospermum (with simple hairs) on the western slopes. We collected this plant as often as we could over the elevational gradient to be able to see if this idea holds once we get back and compare our collections to those made by others earlier and in different places.

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Down and down the valley we went, encountering more and more solanums as we got lower. We also saw lovely waterfalls and fantastic rock faces…..  this is truly a spectacular place. Driving along a one-lane road cut into the rock wall can be heart-stopping of course, but we are getting used to that!

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We encountered the junction to begin our ascent up the other branch of the road at about 2500m elevation – and just a few hundred metres up that road, a real prize revealed itself – Solanum sinuatiexcisum, the relative of Solanum fiebrigii we had collected in Argentina. This was a huge herb more than 2 m tall though – quite a different beast.

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By this time we were getting a bit nervous about climbing over the pass again (different road though this time) in the dark, so kept our collecting to a minimum…. this of course meant stopping a lot, and getting excited over all the new things we were seeing. One mystery was a small tree with shiny leaves and green fruits that I think might be a new species – I will need to check in the herbarium in Lima once I am back to be sure though, I think I have been calling this Solanum maturecalvans for ages, but it is really different seen alive – this is why field work is so important…. For now it is called Solanum “not-maturecalvans”!

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In a small village just before Lares we saw the beautiful solanaceous species Brugmansia sanguinea close up and personal – this is a magic plant, you can just tell can’t you by the lovely flowers!

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On and up we drove, racing to get onto the paved road before dark – we saw the locals bringing in their llamas, single file along a ridge…

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We made it back to Pisac just as the entire two was closing down at 8pm – a good final meal, a hot shower (the best we have had in Peru yet, in the Hotel Pisac Ayllu) and plant dryer organising finished the day. I will be really sad to leave the team here for the next set of adventures – they are hoping to take a route I have long wanted to go on, but life elsewhere is calling. I wonder what they will find, and I wonder if I will be able to resurface into the NHM again?

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From Tiina:

Today we started early again – destination was Paucartambo and beyond. Paucartambo is on the western side of the Andes west of Cusco, and beyond Paucartambo in the Amazon lowlands is Pilcopata. We wanted to collect on the montane forests again on the western side (Solanum heaven!), but in order to do this we needed to drive over a pass to cross the mountains to the other side.

 

The slope to the east from Pisac to Paucartambo is not as steep as in Abra de Malaga. The pass this time is ONLY 4000m high (everything is relative!).

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The road from the pass down to Paucartambo descents slowly, and past Paucartambo the forest is still relatively dry. Paucartambo itself is a lovely village with a really organised looking market – labelled as to types of produce – here is the “tuber section” – where they sell potatoes and other Andean tuber crops – Sandy went in and had a long conversation with a woman about her potatoes – so many different types!

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It only gets really humid once you get to the point where the road forks to Tres Cruces, where the Manu National Park begins. We got as far as the forking point and had to turn back in order to get home in time. We did find Solanum “morel-malaga” again – a sign that we had reached the humid eastern slopes again.  This individual of “morel-malaga” was a giant: the stem was 2.5 cm in diameter at the base. Again it was growing in a landslide site in very disturbed rocky soil. Everything was the same as in the previous collection we had made in Abra de Malaga, but just bigger!

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Manu  National Park is wonderful. It’s massive, stretching from the high elevation moist pre-puna to the lowland Amazonian rain forest. We couldn’t collect in Manu despite how wonderful it looked – collecting in Peruvian national parks requires a special collecting permit, which we don’t have, so instead of collecting we chatted to the park rangers that were at the main reception were we stopped to turn around. They recognised Sandy by her name, as she has collected along the Paucartambo – Pilcopata road before. What a temptation to be that close to the park and not to be able to go in and collect! Maybe we’ll get to see it one day… we promised the rangers we would be back…..

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from Tiina:

Staying at an Inca ruin has been a great experience, and today we made it even more special by heading over the clouds to the Amazonian side of the Andes.

 

Early in the morning we got to the pick-up, ready packed with lunch to drive along the road from Ollantaytambo towards Quillabamba. The road crosses the eastern cordillera at c. 4400 m elevation at Abra de Malaga, and the road then turns down towards the Amazon basin. The Amazon basin side is much more humid than the inter-Andean slopes we have seen thus far, but Paul, Andy and I had never seen these humid montane forests before so we were very keen!

 

Heading off on the road from Ollantaytambo towards the pass we were looking out for Solanum sumacaspi. This is a species of the Geminata clade of Solanum, a tree with remarkably glabrous leaves. Solanum sumacaspi only occurs in the Urumbamba valley, and only few collections of it are known. Luckily we did find it in flower AND fruit, which was fantastic. Sandy has described the species but never seen it in the wild, so this was a moment to cherish!

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Close to Solanum sumacaspi we also found Solanum probolospermum, one of my morelloid solanums. This species is nearly like Solanum pallidum, except that Solanum probolospermum has only simple unicellular hairs, whilst Solanum pallidum has branched hairs. We are yet to find out what the exact limits of these species are – more on that later when we get to see Solanum pallidum itself in Puno hopefully!

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We found more and more Solanum probolospermum when we went up the road. It was great to observe the large variation present in the species in terms of growth form. In some populations, we also observed some fantastic mutations – flowers with six corolla lobes, fasciated corollas, and super-numerous inflorescences. It was all a bit too much for Paul, who started doubting our taxonomic expertise when we said it was the same species. Observing natural variation can be mind boggling at times!

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Once we crossed the pass and started going down the eastern slope of the Andes, the air became more humid and clouds surrounded us. The humidity from the Amazon basin hits the Andean mountains on the eastern slopes, which creates moist montane forest habitats as well as special pre-montane rain forest habitats lower down. This time did not have time to go as low as the pre-montane forests unfortunately. Just as well, as many solanums are found growing in the higher elevation montane forest habitats. First, we found a fantastic species of Morelloid solanums, which we have named as “morel-malaga” for now. This species shows very unusual characters for Morelloids: it has enlarged pedicel apices, calyx with reduced calyx tube and tiny lobes, and most unusually, oval-shaped fruits. We observed this species growing along the eastern side from 3600 to 3450 m elevation, at which point we had to turn around to get home in time. As usual for solanums, this species shows great variation in habit and size, but it clearly likes disturbed microhabitats such as landslides. On our return to herbarium in Lima, we’ll keep our eyes open for this species, as some of the field characters such as pedicel size and fruit shape are not obvious on dried herbarium specimens.

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Second find of the day was Salpichroa didieranum. Generally Salpichroa flowers are c. 1-2 cm long, but this species has long yellow tubular flowers up to 12 cm long! Paul was well pleased, this genus is his favourite!

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Best thing of the day was a bunch of mad cyclists we saw. They passed us when we were collecting our final “morel-malaga” populations in the humid montane forest. It was raining at this point, the moisture was engulfing us in a thick fog, and we could barely see more than 30 meters ahead. First we saw one mad cyclist passing by. He was ecstatic with joy, rolling down the slope, and before we knew it, he had disappeared in the clouds. Second cyclist followed, this time he greeted us with joyful “hello” with a hint of Irish accent. At this point we thought these were just eccentric tourists. But then followed a whole crowed of them – cyclists coming down the hill, some silent some screaming for joy rolling down the hill in rain! What a bunch of mad but happy people, I wish I could do a similar downhill cycling route one day! I bet they just kept rolling down until they got to the Amazon lowlands!

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We decided to have a day off from driving madly across the Peruvian countryside and to explore the amazing ruins of Ollantaytambo. This is a small town with a huge ruin attached that is on the banks of the Río Urubamba.

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It was here that the Inca Manco Capac defeated the Spanish army, only to have them come back in more force later and over-run the fortress – he then retreated to Machu Pichu and beyond….  Today trains run from Cusco to Ollantaytambo to Machu Pichu several times daily (last time I was here it was once a day, starting at the crack of dawn! – how times change).

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Part of the site of Ollantaytambo is a temple to the sun (or so the guidebooks say) hewn of gigantic stones that were transported from across the river and high in the mountains. This temple was never finished, and one can see gigantic stones left along the trail from the quarry across the Urubamba. Like all Inca stonework, you can’t put a piece of paper between these stones – what is amazing about Ollantaytambo is the sheer size of these blocks (see Paul for scale in the picture). How did they do it?

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We climbed high on trails around the entire site, and managed to see some really amazing scenery, take some silly pictures of all of us, and see some interesting plants.

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To collect, we went across the river on an old Inca bridge (recontructed of course) and walked amongst terraced fields of maize and other crops.

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We of course found some solanums – the msot exciting of which was what we called Solanum “pseudoexcisirhombeum” – like our friend from the high puna, but a bit different.  For a start it has smaller flowers….

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Hot off the presses (several days later) – on downloading the original description from the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL), we find that it matches this Urubamba plant better than the puna plants from Ayacucho – so we will need to figure out what those are now! Being able to look at the literature in the field is truly amazing…

 

Landslides are a fact of life in Peru (as you will have seen from earlier posts!) and the Ollantaytambo area is no exception – this river of mud came down the mountain last October or so (we were told be a resident) at night with a huge whoosh. It hadn’t even been raining apparently, a piece of mountain just fell off. Wow.

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Ollantaytambo of course is more than just ruins, it is also a lovely village, and prides itself on retaining its Inca heritage. It also has some lovely Spanish touches as well, like these bulls on the rooftop for good luck, along with a bottle of champagne for celebration!

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Having a day off from driving was good for all of us – we have recharged our batteries and are ready to go again…  what will tomorrow bring? More solanums we are sure!

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Crossing the Apurimac

Posted by Sandy Knapp Mar 16, 2012

from Tiina:

Yesterday’s landslides were scary. This morning we thought we have seen it all, but today we saw something different. We were driving down the valley of Apurimac, when we came across a bit of road next to the river where the cliff side was hanging over us – not under like in most landslides! The river had clearly eaten away rock underneath the hillside during a flood some time ago. Now what was remaining was a whole cliff side loosely hanging on to the mountain, and a road going underneath it. We had to take it, there was no detour. We did not even stop to take a photo – trust me, better that way.

 

Once pass the scary cliff side, we came to a bridge to cross Rio Apurimac. Sandy thought the bridge would make a nice lunch spot, so we stopped to enjoy the scenery, to take photos and to eat a watermelon we had bought earlier. We found Solanum americanum growing at the bridge site just as Sandy had predicted earlier that morning – her philosophy is that every stop brings new discoveries. She is right: whenever we have stopped to take a photo, we have also managed to find good solanums!

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The trouble with this plant at the bridge was that it was growing out of the bridge. In order to get it, Andrew had to lower himself down one of the bollards of the bridge. Luckily we did get a photo of this!

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Later that day we took a side road to Mollepata. This detour was recommended to us by Alberto Salas who is expert on potatoes. We met him before heading to our trip in Lima, and we were following his great recommendations to check out some good side roads. Mollepata turned out to be a great side road. We found a new population of Solanum anomalostemon as well as Solanum physalifolium.

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We left the humming town of Abancay – having first sorted out how to get the plant presses we had managed to forget in Andahuaylas the day before (it always happens at some point!) sent on to Cusco.  Peruvians have a great system for this, called “encomienda” – we sent money by bus company to the hotel keeper in Andahuaylas, then he kindly packed up the presses and sent them by bus to Cusco – all very efficient and easy.

 

As usual in the Andes the day began with a steep climb over a mountain pass – this time in dense fog – but we still managed to see some great plants. We stopped to look back at Abancay in the distance and Paul found a lovely Jaltomata (another genus in the Solanaceae) with densely furry filaments that were deep purple, a beautiful contrast to the pearly white flowers. We are not sure what species it is – but colleagues will let us know once we can send them the specimens!

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As has been the case for a few days on this not-so-well-travelled part of the Andean range, we ran into a bit of road trouble – another huaico had covered the road in at least three metres of mud – but the machines were out there sorting it out. We only had to wait about 20 minutes or so – nothing really in the grand scheme of things!

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Descending into the valley of the Río Apurimac we began to find new and interesting solanums – among them the wonderful species Solanum iltisii – named for the American botanist Hugh Iltis by one of his graduate students. It is a rather large tree with pretty white flowers, but its most peculiar feature is its warty fruits – the “warts” are the bases of hairs that fall off as the fruit matures. I have seen this species in the harbarium – it was great to see it in the flesh!

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As we descended twoards the town of Curahuasi, where we intended to spend the night, we began to look for Solanum anomalostemon, a species I had described with my colleague from the New York Botanical Garden Michael Nee in 2009 from herbarium specimens – I was really keen to see it alive! We called in anomalostemon for its very peculiar (for a solanum) heart-shaped anthers; found nowhere else in the genus. Well, we looked and looked, found lots of other things, so were about to give up – but- decided to have a look along the roadside in the landslips to see if we could find it there.  And – amazingly – there it was! Inconspicously sitting at the base of a landslide…  when he saw it Paul yelled out loud; we thought he had fallen and hurt himself….

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And it is as odd and I expected –what a strange plant. Tiny and flat, but with large (for a solanum) flowers with these most strange-shaped anthers. We fell to speculating as to what pollinated it….

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What a wonderful way to end the day – and just as we got into the car to head into Curahuasi, the snowy peak of Salkantay decided to reveal itself. All was right in the world.

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In Curahuasi the townspeople were celebrating Carnaval still (during Lent it seems to be a continual celebration rather than a time of abstinence – a good idea I think!) with the ceremony of cutting a tree decorated with presents.. same sort of thing we saw in Andahuaylas a few days back.  We agreed – a celebration was in order – for the wierdest solanum ever!!

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The road to Abancay.....

Posted by Sandy Knapp Mar 10, 2012

Yesterday’s road probems were tiny compared to today….. sometimes Peruvian roads must be seen to be believed.  Andahuaylas awoke to pouring rain, not a great result for the festival, but loads of people were outside getting organised. Off we set into the cloud, again climbing to more than 4000 m elevation to cross over a pass to get into the valley of Abancay, our next port of call. As I jumped out to take a picture of potatoes being grown at 4200 m, I realised it was actually snowing! Even the llamas looked wet and miserable, but stoic all the same, just like botanists, but we smile more!

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The entire area between Andahuaylas and Abancay, both in the department of Apurimac, is highly populated, and heavily cultivated – every square inch had a field or animals grazing.

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As we came down in elevation the vegetation became drier ( repeat of our experience a few days ago), and we began to find solanums and other exciting Solanaceae. My top plant of the day was Nicotiana tomentosa – a wild tobacco that is a small tree up to 10 cm in diameter! I have seen what has been called this species in Bolivia before, but these plants were very different – I am going to need to re-think the species limits here.

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The torrential rains of the last few days have made collecting difficult, but have made travel even more so….  The road to Abancay had been reported as having several landslides (or huaicos); the heavy rains loosen the soil and the steep slopes the roads are carved into just slip and slide down, sometimes with quite alarming results. Some people who had come from Cuzco to Andahuaylas for the festival had warned us that there were many vehicles stuck. Well, eventually, after passing many places where rocks and mud had fallen across the road we came across a lorry that had got well and truly stuck in deep mud right on a corner. As we got out to check it out, we heard and saw large rocks falling from the cliffs above; they were so big that it took Tiina and I both to move them out of the way – Andy drove by next to the lorry with aplomb (secretly hoping the mud didn’t slide out from under him!).

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The road was partically blocked by many landslides further on down the mountain, but traffic (and there was a lot of it, mostly buses and lorries) passed through, often at quite a clip.

 

The unusually heavy and prolonged rains have also caused the rivers to swell. We came across one “small stream” that had turned into a torrent, for once, the adjective raging fit perfectly – we could see the boulders being taken down the streambed as we watched.it doesn't look like much in the picture, but trust me, it ws amazing!

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Abancay sits up above a low valley with a river we had to cross, and in the dry forest vegetation in the valley we found two more exciting Solanum species. Solanum neorickii is a wild tomato relative with tiny little flowers, it has green fruits that look just like minature green tomatoes – the plants we collected were in full fruit.

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Further down the splendid dry valley we came to the bridge over the Rio Casinchihua – where Tiina found her plant of the day, Solanum physalifolium. This species has a wonderful speckled fruit that is translucent when it is ripe – you can see the brown seeds through the fruit wall. In England we have a species we call Solanum physalifolium, but it is nothing like this little plant. As with the tobacco, we will need to rethink the species boundaries here!

 

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On our way into Abancay we were delayed by various road crews clearing away huge rocks that had fallen onto the (now paved) road…  but as we began to climb up the hill we were surprised by a long queue of vehicles, all stopped for some reason…  Paul jumped out to see what the story was and came back with the news that there was another huaico and that vehicles were only being let through in small batches, and then only some could make it. The road had turned into a rocky river bed… the tractor was fixing it constantly as sets of three or four vehicles went through.

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We had to cross the river twice – the second time was easier and we made a big splash!

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Tomorrow we head up again in order to descend again into the canyon of the Rio Apurimac, said to be even deeper than the Grand Canyon. Here we are seeking the rare and exciting species Solanum anomalostemon, known only from this canyon – with my colleague Michael Nee of the New York Botanical Garden I described this a few years ago, but I have never seen it alive and in its habitat – can’t wait! We can see that it is still raining in the mountains, so we wonder what we will find on the road?

                                                                                          

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Off for the mountains

Posted by Sandy Knapp Mar 2, 2012

Our vehicle was delivered (a nice 4x4 pickup truck that will be perfect for the mountain roads), we are almost finished in the herbarium - so today we will head south and then up into the Andes. Getting out of Lima is a challenge in itself!

 

It has been raining a lot in the mountains, so who knows what we will find. Peru is famous for what are known locally as huaicos - huge mudslips that block roads; none have been reported though for the road to Ayacucho, so we are hopeful!

 

I am very excited to be going to Ayacucho - when I live in Peru in the 1980s it was the centre of activities for the Shining Path, a violent terrorist group whose activities disrupted all of Peruvian society for years - it was a no-go area in those days. Now, in contrast, Peru is a vibrant buzzing place, and there is a new road from the coast directly to Ayacucho - very little plant collecting has been done in the area recently (although our Peruvian colleagues have of course been there), so we are not sure what we will find, but it is bound to be interesting.

 

We are joined on this leg of the trip by Andrew Matthews, an NHM volunteer and forester, and Paul Gonzales, a student from the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos in Lima, who has just finished his undergraduate degree and is on the way to becoming a top Peruvian botanist - we'll have more about them later. How many solanums will we find in Peru?

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We bade goodbye to our potato breeder friends last night with an amazing dinner at an archeological site called Huaca Pullana (a huaca in Peru is a ruin). Huaca Pullana is a pre-Inca site made entirely of mud; said to be a religious centre, it covers several city blocks right in the middle of Lima.

 

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Today was the beginning of the annual week of celebrations held for the founding of the Museo Nacional de Historia Natural (the NHM in Peru); this year they are celebrating the start of their 94th year. The Museo in Lima is like the NHM in London in that it has collections spanning all living organisms, fossils and minerals.

 

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Today (Saturday) the scientific departments with the collections were open to the public - who came in droves! It was a bit like Science Uncovered Peruvian style, with activities for children, food and lots of buzz.

 

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Pond-dipping is popular the world over!

 

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Pointing the way to the vertebrate zoology section!

 

Visits to the science departments and collections were very popular - our herbarium colleagues made a wonder display of the groups of plants, algae and fungi from Peru, and studentw were on hand to explain it all to the many many people who came through the door.

 

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Miguel and Isabel with the flowering plant displays...

 

Our favourite part though was outside, where a section of the activities beckoned people to discover how to mount a scientific expedition - the area was full of collecting equipment, tents and paraphenalia - students again were on hand to explain how they collected and why it was so important for the conservation of Peruvian biodiversity.

 

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The sign says "DISCOVER HOW TO MAKE A SCIENTIFIC EXPEDITION"

 

The day was great - we spent most of it in the herbarium working on the database - so many interesting specimens, but could hear people having a graet time outside... the entire day was themed around Peruvian biodiversity and how the Museo worked to understand and conserve it - the enthusiasm from both those explaining and those visiting was so inspiring.

 

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A game for children painted on the pavements - the rhea is saying "I am disappearing beacuse of hunting, egg collection, capture of my chicks and destruction of my habitat" - the idea was to compelte the circuit and then fill in some missing boxes - we saw lots of people playing!

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